March 2018 Blog … Your 12 volt Brain needs a Higher Voltage Setting

If you first learned about cars with a 12 volt system that ran on gasoline or diesel you were, without knowing it, developing what I call a “12 volt brain”. When you were a small child and stood by the family car (or a friend’s car) you did not have to be told what a car sounded like when it was cranking, especially if it would not start. After repeatedly hearing that familiar “rur…rur… rur and maybe then click … click … click and nothing. It became a part of what a car does. The 12 volt brain was learning even before you knew you wanted to fix these things. Your automotive classes in college are now in conflict with some of that intrinsic knowledge and you must relearn what a high voltage system can do, that was not possible with a mere twelve volts. Time to develop a high voltage brain. This will be exciting and challenging as well. It will lead to a revolution in transportation that was last seen between 1890 and 1910. Those two decades set the stage for an affordable gasoline powered world. The future is electric and it is time to learn the how and why.  We are here to help.

We lost a Great Man and Friend 10 Years Ago. Remembering Stan Stephenson

February 8th, 2008. 2:12pm in room 676 at Bryn Mawr Hospital in Pennsylvania; Stan Stephenson, his son Peter, Linda (a very close friend of Peter’s), and myself were together holding hands, holding each other and saying goodbye to a Father, friend, and one powerful man. Stan, like so many men his age kept his problems to himself. He took care of business, made sure those he loved were doing well and stepped in when they were not. His list of admirers was long and over the two days he was in the hospital for the last time many of his followers came by to wish him well. Young and old, relatives and business related friendships. Stories were told in the waiting room and next to Stan as he lay in bed listening but unable to say much. Just 11 months earlier many of us saw Stan at his wife’s Adel’s funeral. That was when I met Peter for the fist time. Peter is an only child and lives in New Mexico. “Like Father, Like Son” the saying goes and it is true. Peter is also a lot like his Mother. So not even a year after Peter lost his Mom, there he is holding and kissing his Father as they say goodbye. The way many of us knew Stan was through Motor Age magazine and for the older friends Chilton and other auto related endeavors that Stan loved so much. But Stan was a Father and Husband. He knew his responsibilities in those roles and did his job. He also adopted, in a way, many interns that were lucky enough to pass the test of being worthy of Stan’s attention. One such lucky lady was Shahla. Shahla came to visit Stan the day before he passed on and she was very sad. Shahla and I knew each other so we spent hours visiting. We spoke about her relationship to Stanly, as some people called him, and it became clear to us that Shahla was the daughter Stan never had. Two other men, Tony Molla and Bill Canon, had also visited Stan over those last two days and they too knew that Stan has guided and shaped their lives in ways that a father would guide his son, the way Stan was with Peter. This surreal time was a moment for me to once again take stock of why we are here, the finality of death and how one can live his life. Stan Stephenson knew how to live, and how to inspire those that cared enough to be real. He hated anything phony, was never impressed with flash and glitz. What mattered to Stan was speaking up, truth telling, and keeping an open mind in the process. You always knew where you stood with Stan and how he stood on subjects that really mattered to him.


Stan was powerful. I have wondered what makes some men powerful and others not. A few years back I discovered that generosity and a deep understanding of responsibility made men powerful. Stan was all that. His giving of himself, his time, advice, getting his interns connected to their passion and to people that made jobs happen for them. Stan was smart and wise. He wrote about things that came true years later. Stan was leading the way for so many ideas whose time had not yet come but Stan knew it needed to happen and soon. Stan was a talent scout; he knew what people often didn’t know about themselves. He saw the good in you and if you were willing to hear it (not everyone was) he would point out the way to success. Stan left this world a much more honest place. He did his job well so Peter now can go forward with a gift of Stan’s making. Peter knows what is important. Peter had a Dad that knew stuff.

December / January 2018 Flying High

Deb and I took to the rails at the end of December and boarded an Amtrak train in Rhode Island and headed to Atlanta, Georgia. We arrived on January first and picked up our mobile office- classroom (a 2007 Toyota Highlander Hybrid) and drove to Memphis, Tennessee to visit our friend, Jason, of some 30 years. Jason is a pilot that flies a commercial twin prop with things like human organs and such that need to get to hospitals fast. He wasn’t always a commercial pilot. When I meet Jason he was 29 and I was 37. We volunteered together in Boston to help fix up an old building that housed a not-for-profit woman’s organization. That was 1987. We had a few things in common. We were both short (although that is relative), had drive, ambition and a big heart. When Jason’s roommate moved out Jason moved into my place (this was before I met the lovely Deborah who later became my wife). Jason was working for a big computer company and that looked like lifetime job. It wasn’t. Then he left Worcester for a job in Albuquerque, NM. He had been a Civil Air Patrol Pilot in Worcester and loved to fly so he volunteered with the New Mexico Civil Air Patrol and continued to help people. Getting a commercial pilot license is difficult and without military service or lots of money almost impossible. Jason had neither one. But he continued on and after many jobs that were not great but paid the bills his dream was still alive. Ten years went by and we stayed in touch but still no commercial pilot license. Then twenty years and he was still doing telemarketing. More years passed and then so did his parents. They were not rich but the inheritance helped pay for more training and after 28 years of sticking with it, Jason passed every test and celebrated by calling me with the good news…but no job flying. Applications went out but now he is in his mid-50’s. Then it happened!  11 months ago Jason moved to Memphis and now every night he arrives at the airport around midnight and takes off about 1am for a round trip to Birmingham, Alabama. I have made a lot of friends, in and out of the automotive business, but few have stayed with it this long for their dream job. We can all learn from my old roommate Jason. You are never too old to chase your dreams.

November Blog … 29,000 10 to 17 year old Foster Boys are looking for help every year.

FAAT CATS helps Foster Teenagers find homes and a life

If you have run a shop for any amount of time, finding and keeping good help is always near the top of the list. At ever class I taught in 2017 I included a slide that spoke to the plight of American foster children. First the chilling numbers. Over ½ million American kids have been removed from their homes for their own safety. 130,000 have had gone through, or are in the process, of legally being freed to adopt. In other words they need a new forever family. 29,000 of these kids will never get adopted and will age out of the foster care system at eighteen to twenty one without being attached to a family of their own. 29,000 American kids (per year) will not have a family to spend vacations, holidays or their birthdays with. Those are the facts, as sad as they are. Each year it gets worse. You can help.

When Deb and I found out in 1992 that we could not conceive our own children, we were sad, mad, frustrated and lost. After some real soul searching and an education in all types of adoption, it was clear to us there were kids in our area that really needed parents, a home, love, family, discipline, and a future. We didn’t need to go outside the USA to help a child find a home, there were plenty right here.

At the same time Deb and I were building the Massachusetts ASA chapter, we were also preparing a home for what would be two foster-adoptions. Mike was first at age 5. We took him in as our own, adopted Mike and started our family. Will was next at age 15. Now the boys are 26 and 32. They are doing well after some very rough times. It was more than worth it. We didn’t need baby pictures; we just wanted to be parents. Deb and I knew we could do a good job.

At Van Batenburg’s Garage, Mike and Will helped with trash, clean up, worked on company vehicles, and did some computer work. Mike and I started work on an old Honda Accord that will be his later on. Working with my sons added more than just a cleaner shop. It helped them learn, helped them develop skills they will need to succeed in the real world, a not so nice place at times. Both of my sons know how tough the world can be and learned at much too young of an age. What they need now is to learn survival and success skills. Fixing cars can do that.

If you have been employing young people, you have been dealing with some bad behaviors. You already know what to do keep young people in line. I have an idea! Why not learn more about the foster teenagers that live in your home town, visit with them and offer them a job, a future and maybe even a home. There is more to life than work. Why not make your career a place for foster kids too?

Craig Van Batenburg

P.S. Why do we work with boys 10 to 17. At that age almost all of these boys will never get adopted. Girls gets adopted at any age.

How long before Electric Cars are Mainstream?

I talked to Marc Pons, a shop owner we work with in North Carolina, about this subject recently. If you read the Wall Street Journal or Automotive News out of Detroit, both well respected news outlets, you will see a theme. EV’s are on their way and there is no stopping it. You can slow it down with news stories bought and paid for by any large corporation that would not benefit, but electric drive is the future. You may choose not to believe it. Volvo and Tesla are believers. Many more OEM’s are making future plans that see the future as I do. But what about independent auto repair shops?  Where do you fit?  How will this change your business? If you have 3 techs and they work 49 weeks a year and your customers are loyal you need about 1,000 cars per tech, if your customer has one car each. Many customers are not loyal so 2,000 cars per tech is more like it. ACDC owns 2 pure EVs, a 2011 Nissan Leaf and a 2017 Chevy Bolt. If these cars were the only ones on the road and you only serviced them you would need about 10,000 loyal customers per tech if everything else was equal. That means you will have 90% less work. If I am off by 20% and pure EVs need more work than that, you will need 7,000 cars per tech. That changes your business model and the shop must change too. Can you still make it? Sure if we lose 70% to 90% of our service bays and techs? Will that happen? It is happening now.  Which side do you want to be on?

Right to Repair in Massachusetts and Tesla

In the fall of 2012 a referendum in my home state passed with a large margin to make Massachusetts the only state (still is) where an independent shop can sue the manufacturer of a motor vehicle (gas or electric) if the OEM did not keep the playing field level in terms of service information, replacement parts, tools, equipment, software updates, scan tools and training information. It is NASTF (National Automotive Service Task Force) with teeth. The law has never been tested but it is clear to me that Tesla is in violation. If your Tesla failed our annual strict safety test you must have it fixed at the repair shop that did the test or tow it to the shop of your choice. Every car in my state gets tested every year. Obviously our emissions test does not apply to pure electric cars. Most car owners bring their vehicles to the shop they like and if something is wrong it gets fixed. Most owners will drive to another shop if it failed safety not knowing it is illegal. Those are the facts. Expect things to change soon as Tesla delivers more Model 3 cars. Currently if a Tesla Roadster, Model S or X failed for a safety defect (like a loose ball joint) you must have it fixed by Tesla, even out of warranty cars. That is not allowed in Massachusetts the way I read it as any shop should be able to make the car safe again.

July 2017 .. My new “TLOB” … what a car

2017 Chevy Bolt 60 KWh pack.

2017 Chevy Bolt 60 KWh pack.

I sent a request to Identifix for some technical information about the new 2017 Chevy Bolt ACDC has just acquired. Well guess what? I received some great info about the Volt. Then an ACDC shop called about the faster charger on the Bolt and I explained that the Volt does not have fast charging. This was all in the span of 3 days so here I am with a communication problem that makes it hard to talk about two great GM cars, the Volt and Bolt. Then I remembered a trip to Berlin last year and a strange little car called the “Trabant” and I knew I had the answer to my problem. Now at all my spoken classes we have a Volt and Tlob. Yes, that is Bolt spelled backwards and it works. Easy to say “Till-ob”, just smoosh it all together and presto, no more problem. Everyone in the class knows what car I am referring to and now learning can happen. Welcome to my world of “Tlob”. 238 miles to a charge, fast, fun, affordable and no more gasoline. I may even call it a “Tlobant” . It has a nice ring to it. 

To learn more about the Chevy “Tlob” watch for an Email inviting you a Free (sort of) one hour live Webinar soon to help raise needed funds for some special boys.

May / June 2017 … Zen … Why I blog … EV Questions

When a monthly bog is done over two months, it means one thing, ACDC is busy. But writing this helps keep me sane. Some would say it is not working.

A Great Book

A Great Book

I fixed cars and motorcycles for a living from 1967 to 1977 for someone else and ran my own shop from 1977 to 2004. As a veteran of the motor vehicle industry I am sometimes amazed at the talent a technician must have to tackle a tough problem with confidence and determination. The sheer amount on knowledge is mind boggling.  Will Electric Cars make that job harder? That topic was discussed at a class I taught in New Hampshire recently.

Here are the questions to consider;

1.   How many ways can a gas (or diesel) motor vehicle fail that causes a check engine light or drive ability concern vs. a battery only car (EV)?

2.   How many sensors and systems does each car have compared to each other?

3.   Can carbon build up cause issues with EVs?

4.   Understanding the “wheel to grave” issues, are any cars carbon free?

5.   Knowing that CO, HC, NOx and CO2 are created just to travel on wheels (not included are foot powered types) what is your best choice?

6.   What type of electrical generation is used in the driving of EVs in your area?


These and many more valid questions we raised and answers given. There were no “climate change deniers” so no fights broke out. As the industry moves forward cars will change even more. Some of you may move with the changes. Trends will come and go (like fins on Cadillacs). Knowing the answers to questions is what technicians get paid to do. Installing the parts in secondary.

Lastly, if you are looking for a good book to read get a copy of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. I read it when it came out in 1974. The author, Robert Pirsig, died recently so I ordered another copy. It has a way of lifting up those that can fix things.

April 2017 … Washington DC and Electric Cars

Love him or Not, Obama supported the US Auto Industry, Electric cars and clean energy.

Love him or Not, Obama supported the US Auto Industry, Electric cars and clean energy.

Will the new administration make it harder for an American shop to be successful in the hybrid or plug-in market? I have stayed away from any mention of President Trump so far in regards to my business dealings. So why bring it up now? I received a call from a shop owner named Larry in the mid-west that asked me that question. It was a thoughtful discussion. I didn’t ask who he voted for. We first talked about President Obama and his policies about MPG, CO2, EV’s, renewable energy and so on. I stated that the last administration took good care of my family, my interests, my community and ACDC thrived during a tough economic time. Larry was afraid that now may not be a good time to add hybrid and EV’s (he was already in the process with a charging station installed and some training). The call was over 20 minutes long (During a busy day for both of us). We agreed that no matter what, electric cars were here to stay and hybrids are mainstream now, even in southern Illinois. The EPA is considering easing up on CO2 pollution. The fuel economy federal standards may be pushed back. The $7,500 EV tax credit may go away. Gas prices may stay low. Doesn’t this all sound like the hybrid and especially the EV market will collapse? Here is what I have seen since mid-January; sales of the new Bolt are doing well as is the Volt. Tesla 3 still has about 400,000 pre-orders. The Leaf is moving slowing with a new model coming soon. The RAV4 HEV is a hit and Prii seem to be everywhere. The Ford Fusion HEV and PHEV are selling as well as ever. ACDC is still setting records for classes taught in one year and our overseas business is booming. People like these cars. EV’s are fast and quiet. Presidents come and go. Ford is using aluminum for the F150 and adding more fuel efficient cars and trucks every year. GM is totally committed to high voltage cars and Toyota continues to make good plug-ins like the new Prime. The Hyundai Ioniq HEV beats the Prii in MPG. Who would have thought that would happen. Do I like the changes in Washington D.C. in the world of environmental issues? Not at all, but the products are here and they are selling so don’t worry. In a few years things will change again. Yes, the political weather has changed (for now) so dress for the weather. Don’t get caught leaving your hybrid and plug-in customers out in the cold. They need you and want you to succeed. Don’t let them, your employees or yourself down.

For the Over 60 Shop Owner ..February Blog 2017

Those Days are Over

Deb and I are in our mid 60’s born 18 days apart. I am older by about 2 weeks, so that makes me wiser, right? OK, enough BS already. Deb and I have lunch together most days at home, which is a short walk from the office. The conversation turned to male shop owners over 60 and the frustration they feel in today’s world. Deb and I both get that. I ran my independent Honda / Toyota shop from 1977 to 2004. One shop owner said “While I am looking at a car and putting an estimate together these young kids are price shopping me on their phone in the waiting room”. Another mature owner “Fewer shop owners join trade associations and show up to meetings”. Still another “I feel all alone and I am making less money than before” or “Dealerships are taking away our customers”. I have been accused recently of “getting out of the business so why should I (meaning me) promote it?”  Let’s address this and find a solution or two.


1.      Send me a note and I will write up a policy sheet (free) that explains the relationship between the shop and customer

2.      I still believe that a shop owner should be a member of the local trade association and volunteer, but if money is tight or you don’t have an association then consider this:

a.      Start an over 60 shop owners club

i.      Membership is free

ii.      Meet at a shop and rotate the meetings

iii.      Talk about the stuff that drives you crazy

iv.      Look for solutions

v.      Don’t break the law and talk prices


3.      Why did I close my shop in 2004? ACDC was doing well. I was raising two boys and Deb was stuck at home with them too often. I also fell in love with hybrids and out of love with gas cars. It was never about the money, it was about the one life I have to live and what was important to me.

I encourage people to give their best and stay in the game, their game, whatever that is for them. If you are done running your shop, then do something else. You don’t have to prove to anyone else or yourself that staying in business is a must. But if you are in the auto repair industry, do it well and find a way to stay positive. It is your shop and you have the final say in how it runs.